Playback: Cracking the discoverability conundrum

From Playback magazine: Ahead of this fall’s CRTC Discoverability Summit, a panel of six marketing and media experts weigh in on strategies for getting Cancon in front of Canadians.

How do you get eyeballs onto your show? Is it a matter of blanketing the world with ads promoting upcoming episodes? Is social media the way to get attention? Once you’re live, how do you keep people coming back for more?

Canadian content producers and broadcasters are no longer just competing against the slick U.S. shows. They’re up against original content from big brands like Red Bull and Chipotle, not to mention a legion of YouTubers and Vine stars all drawing viewers at record numbers.

In this new on-demand world, the CRTC in its Let’s Talk TV decisions identified the challenge of getting Canadian content in front of audiences faced with a sea of choices and is this fall dedicating a working group to answering these questions.

To give the group a head start, Playback, which counts strategy magazine among its publishing group, took a shot at a pre-working-group working group, tapping experts from the industry to weigh in on how Canadians can improve on the discoverability of our domestic content.

What are some of the main barriers to promoting Canadian content?

Catherine Tait, president, Duopoly: Canadian broadcasters are struggling to maintain market share. Their top priority is not necessarily making sure Canadian audiences discover Canadian content. Producers – whose primary interest is just this – do not necessarily have the knowledge or budgets to support discoverability.

Moyra Rodger, CEO, digital marketing agency Magnify Digital: The skill set isn’t necessarily in-house at these companies. Digital marketing looks really, really easy because the channels for connecting with audiences are all around us, they’re free and accessible 24/7. There’s an assumption audiences can and should be built around content easily. It’s just a matter of putting up a Twitter or Facebook page. This is so misguided. Creating a measurable online audience engagement strategy begins the same way a solid business plan begins.

Jamie Schouela, EVP marketing and communications, Blue Ant Media: Five or 10 years ago, people would launch shows in September or mid-season. Now, networks are launching 52 weeks a year. As a marketing department, there’s constant opportunity to connect. But it’s an ongoing cycle – there is no downtime anymore.

Mavis Huntley, head of integrated production and studio at Toronto-based ad agency john st.: You always have to be in Canadians’ faces and it’s a constant push. It’s not just doing a few ads. It’s every day, being there and breaking through. It’s a big investment in resources and people, and trying to do it the most cost-effective way – just because [broadcasters and producers] have to do it, doesn’t mean budgets are getting any bigger.

What are some missed opportunities?

Paul Burns, managing director, Huge Canada (former VP Digital Media, Shaw Communications): If you look at the way in which content is produced and published, there’s an enormous amount of weight around getting that piece of content live. There is a lot of resources, marketing efforts, production and then the big premiere of the show. Then there’s a wait-and-see [approach]. But there’s a lot to be said for once the piece of content goes live trying to figure out how to nurture, grow and evolve content or a storyline based on how the audience is responding to it.

I think there’s a huge opportunity to let Canadians in on the production process and the action. During production of a show [producers and broadcasters should] map out, choreograph and produce all the possible content opportunities that exist – 30-second social videos, six-second Vine clips, GIFs. Look at Star Wars – every little social thing they reveal is blowing up.

Schouela: I think companies need to get smarter at targeting and really understanding what digital media allows you to do: connect with very targeted audiences. For example, [to promote Colin & Justin’s Cabin Pressure], we’re able to hyper-target people who are interested in Colin and Justin, or have a cottage, through a combination of tapping into [their] social following and other Cottage Life touchpoints, like the newsletters or magazine, to get the content in front of the right people.

How can broadcasters improve discoverability of Cancon?

Burns: [Broadcasters have to ask] where does the audience affinity lie? Is it with the broadcast network? Or is it with a certain show within the network?
If the audience affinity lies with a show, not a network, then how could we think about discoverability in that context? Should we be putting efforts around experiences and applications that are focused on the network? Or should we focus on the show?

Walter Levitt, CMO, Comedy Central (former CMO, broadcasting, Canwest): But I think consumers can be paralyzed by choice. When there’s too much choice, consumers look for a trusted brand. I think every media company needs to start with a well articulated brand strategy: who are we? Who are we serving? What benefit are we providing to them? How are we different from other media brands?

The trick is to deliver consistently on that brand promise. I think what happened for many years is they jumped around because they saw an opportunity that may have been off-brand for them, but there may have been some short-term revenue upside.

Rodger: I suppose it pokes at the question: who owns the audience? Traditionally producers were business to business. Come up with an idea, sell it to the broadcaster and the audience is the domain of the broadcaster. Now it’s in the interest of the content creators to build the best audience as possible. That can start in the early stages of production. It’s not realistic [for] a network to get invested early in production for all of their shows, but it can only benefit the Canadian [premiere] by pre-building excitement and audience.

Part of that may mean that some of the broadcaster control over what a producer can do to build audiences needs to be relaxed a little bit. [For example, with series’ websites, which are usually managed by broadcasters], producers who have no way of engaging with an audience when they’re all within the broadcaster’s portal. Perhaps that means turning the website over to the producer, but linking to it on [the broadcaster’s] site.

What role should producers play?

Tait: Canadian producers must assume greater responsibility for the complete lifecycle of their shows. Producers are not necessarily marketers. [But] we are no longer in the business of creating solitary stories. We’re in the business of creating and building content brands and franchises with digital footprints and where audience engagement, not simply ratings, guarantees success.

Burns: It’s not just about delivering a set of 24 episodes – it’s 24 episodes and thousands of pieces of content for those 24 episodes. It’s thinking what kind of content works on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and what’s the schedule for releasing that content so it’s sustaining audiences between release cycles.

What technology could be used better?

Levitt: Obviously, the use of algorithms to serve content that people are going to be interested in is going to be incredibly impactful. If you’re on a platform like Netflix or YouTube, it’s really important to understand how the algorithms work in terms of surfacing content and make sure you are doing everything you can to favour your content. A great example is Facebook: the algorithm has been tweaked in the last few months to favour video in its [native] video player, which travels far and wide more quickly [than an embedded link from YouTube]. If you’re a media player launching a new brand, you want to make sure your piece of content is optimized for the Facebook player.

Burns: Personalization – we should know what the audiences want to watch before they actually know that it’s available. We should be able to anticipate their needs and desire before they even know.

Huntley: It’s cliché, but advertising on mobile. [For example,] when people leave work and sit on transit, how can we make sure there’s a reminder showing up on their phone, so no matter where they are, you’re reminding them to [watch your content].

What’s holding broadcasters and producers back?

Burns: It’s easier said than done. Some of the challenges might be the inertia from a business that’s been around for 70-plus years. How do you move from a linear time-based viewing model to a totally on-demand world?

Rodger: Because the Canadian model is still based on getting the broadcast trigger in order to access funding, the notion of connecting directly with audiences hasn’t really been a necessity – it hasn’t impacted a producer’s bottom line. Producers have so much to do from pitching, getting a broadcast trigger, finding funding, getting the show made that they haven’t been forced to adapt yet. There needs to be recognition that producers are now marketers and the workflow has to be adapted.

Is anyone doing it well?

Levitt: It’s hard not to talk about HBO in this context. It has built an incredible brand over the years that stands for the highest quality. What’s interesting is their brand isn’t about one category of content, but an expectation of quality of content. As a result consumers are willing to pay for the HBO brand on its own.

What other industries are doing this well?

Burns: There’s an urgency and a shelf life to news and sports content. It [means] getting the story published first, making sure you’re ranking highest in SEO, that you have a ton of angles to that content through social. There’s something interesting in how news organizations produce content: it’s very involving of the audience. It’s not static and a story evolves over the course of a day. And it’s intensely local.

Is there a role for external agency support?

Tait: I think all producers could benefit from outside guidance on how to develop, implement and work a social media campaign. However, to be truly effective over the long term, these skills need to be brought in house and become integral to the producers’ day-to-day business.

What should the working group focus on?

Levitt: It should focus on how as an industry we can build an infrastructure that is brand-agnostic. If the objective is to generate interest in Canadian content that competes against U.S. content, then the industry has to ask, “how do we develop some kind of system we can all share to get our content out there? How do we work with platforms so algorithms are favouring original Canadian content? How do we work together to collect and use that data to target people who have an affinity to our content?”

Schouela: It should set up a list of what those best practices are, understanding how broadcasters can come together to support the industry as a whole. Part of it is getting a sense of what is connecting with audiences, but also comparing notes about shows that we’ve launched over the years, and figuring out what the formula is that works.

This article originally appeared in the 2015 Summer issue of Playback magazine.

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